Report: Barbara Cook at George Mason

September 30, 2007

Barbara Cook’s concert at George Mason last night offered a selection of songs loosely based the notion of Sondheim and his collaborators, rounded out with other songs that Cook simply felt like singing. 

As a performer Cook does so much, so right, and without fuss that it’s easy to forget how brilliant she is.  There’s the crystalline diction, the beautiful placement of melodic lines in her voice, and the very clear storytelling.  Most of all, there is a commitment to communication, heart to heart, soul to soul.  And for all the hard-core Cook fans, the signature quirks are still there – the singing entrance, the lack of stool or mike stand, the un-amplified encore, and the comfortable shoes. 

Music direction was provided by Lee Musiker, with Peter Donovan on bass.  Musiker is obviously a superb musician and provided notable support.  However, one doesn’t sense him breathing at the same time as Cook.  On the other hand, perhaps a fan should realize that the seamlessness of the Barbara Cook / Wally Harper team is something that was rare and special.  We should have considered ourselves fortunate to have witnessed it, and not put the pressure on any future music director (or Cook) to replicate it. 

Highlights included a passionate reading of Sondheim’s No One Is Alone, a swinging Hard Hearted Hannah, and an amazingly unembellished This Nearly Was Mine.  The unexpected highlight of the evening was Cook’s reminisces about working in the chorus of an Atlanta show-house as a teenager and seeing Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards; she supplemented this with the charming specialty number, My Dog Loves Your Dog.  At the end of the concert she was joined for a rousing version of Make Our Garden Grow by Richard Novak, a voice professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and Adrianna Sgarlata, a graduate student studying voice and Miss Virginia 2006 along with a student chorus.  She sang We’ll Be Together Again for her encore, and of course, at that point I couldn’t wait until the next time I could see her. 

Here’s her set list: 

  • Oh What a Beautiful Morning / The Surrey with the Fringe on Top

  • It Might As Well Be Spring

  • A Wonderful Guy

  • I Had Myself a True Love

  • Hard Hearted Hannah

  • Waitin’ for the Robert E. Lee

  • San Francisco

  • Another Hundred People / So Many People

  • I Got Lost in His Arms

  • Nashville Nightengale

  • No One is Alone

  • I Wish I Could Forget You

  • No One But Me

  • Lover Come Back to Me

  • Long Before I Knew You / I Fall in Love Too Easily

  • My Dog Loves Your Dog

  • I’m Beginning to See the Light

  • This Nearly Was Mine

  • No More

  • Make Our Garden Grow

  • We’ll Be Together Again

Just wondering…

September 30, 2007

Did Marcel Marceau’s death inspire mimes around the world to have a “moment of noise”?

Playing an “Aging Godmother”???

September 29, 2007

DC’s great cabaret star Beverly Cosham can currently be seen in the Round House Theater’s production of A Lesson Before Dying

I know I’m looking forward to seeing it!  We all have until October 14th.

SingCo in Bowie on Sunday

September 29, 2007

Doug Bowles and his SingCo Rhythm Orchestra will be offering up swing classics for your dancing or listening pleasure at this year’s Bowie Fall Festival. According to Bob Schaefer of the Friends of Old Town Bowie, the orchestra will be performing between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. on the street across from Fabian House, located at 8519 Chestnut Ave; Bowie, MD  20715.  The street will be closed to traffic so there will be plenty of room for dancing.

The SingCo Rhythm Orchestra, formed in 1997, is a 12-piece orchestra that specializes in the hot jazz of the late 1920s, the romantic and swingy tunes of the 1930s and the Goodman, Dorsey, Miller “high swing” of the 1940s. Dancers love the band for its variety that includes dance styles like the Charleston, jitterbug, lindy, waltz, fox trot, rhumba, samba and more.

Another Merrily Photo

September 29, 2007


Here’s another picture from the 1990 Arena Stage production of Merrily We Roll Along.

 Thanks to all the “Garberholics” who visited the site!  Also, one of them led to a video of Old Friends from the Arena production on YouTube:  That will lead you all to alot more Merrily material.  Enjoy!

*That’s Victor Garber, Marin Mazzie, David Garrison, and Becky Ann Baker.  Photos from the Arena Stage production of Merrily We Roll Along, photographer Joan Marcus.  Special thanks to Haley Miller at Arena Stage for finding the archive materials and converting them into digital images.  I really appreciate it!

DIVA 5+1: Karen Mason

September 28, 2007


I am thrilled to inaugurate a new feature: “Diva 5+1” – interviews with notable cabaret performers.  All the performers will be asked 5 of the same questions and then a personalized one.We start the series with one of the top names in cabaret today, Karen Mason

Karen Mason started her singing career in Chicago, where she first worked with music director/songwriter Brian Lasser.  After moving to New York, she started singing extensively in clubs.  She was also a member of the originally company of the Kander and Ebb revue And the World Goes Round, was the first Broadway Tanya in Mamma Mia! and stood by for a plethora of Norma Desmonds in Sunset Blvd.In addition to maintaining an extensive performing and touring schedule with long-time musical director Chris Denny, she also teaches in the cabaret program at Perry-Mansfield.She has also recorded extensively.  Frankly her CDs are all so amazing, it is hard to recommend any one in particular.  They all belong in a basic cabaret recording collection.  Part of the reason for the high quality of her recordings could be her marriage to Paul Rolnick, one of the top recording engineers in New York, who is also a great songwriter (“Cold Enough to Cross.”)

1.  Please describe a “perfect” cabaret experience that you’ve had. 

Perfect is such a large word!  The relationship of all the elements is such a delicate one. I really don’t think I could pick just one.  And part of that experience involves all the rehearsals and singing and laughing with Chris and Barry Kleinbort, my director, …that happens before I even get to the day of the show!

I can tell you that the perfect cabaret experience would have a few specific things:  great sound, beautiful grand piano (perfectly tuned, of course), Chris Denny at that piano,  a great audience, and of course a fun show to sing!   

2.   What is a recent song you’ve been struggling with?  Have you won yet?

A song that has been giving me some tough moments is one that I have been singing for a while……it is an arrangement of “Maybe This Time” that Chris did for me a few years ago.   And it takes a very particular vocal technique at one point in the song that is a constant challenge for me.  It is a descrecendo on the word “win” at the climax of the song.  Whew!!! I have worked on all kinds of ways of making it work…and Chris and I discuss it all the time. The hard part is that my emotion gets the better of me at that moment in the song……,  I don’t think I will ever think I have won this battle.  It keeps me on my toes!!!

3.  The relationship between a singer and the musical director really is a “cabaret marriage.”  What are the keys to making the marriage work?  And for the times you need to work with a surrogate, what are the steps you take to get quickly on the same page?

I have been very blessed in my life to work with musicians who are artists.  Brian Lasser for the first part of my career…and now Christopher Denny, who is a gift in my life.  Both men are both virtuosos and accompanists.  And arrangers and singers and hysterically funny and loving.  I am a very lucky singer!  It is like any other marriage.   You have to consider it a partnership and a friendship.  Trust is a HUGE part of the equation.  And there is love and respect and for us, lots and lots of laughter.    When I work with someone else, I always make sure I have a tape of the music to play for the new MD.  It just helps clarify how you want the music performed.  It is also important to give a little lattitude to the new pianist.   You want them to be happily participating, too, while still being able to accomplish your musical goals.  

4.  What is a particular image that you can rely on to be an effective sense memory when you’re performing?

That is a secret!    

5. What is the most pressing need the world of cabaret has today?

Good sound systems!!!!!

 +1  You go regularly between theater and cabaret.  As a matter of fact, the video I have of you doing “As If We Never Said Goodbye” is the clip I use when I want to demonstrate how to adapt a stage performance to cabaret.  What advice would you give for performers more used to the musical theater or opera to re-focus their work to cabaret?  

Don’t be afraid of the audience!   They will be a lot closer than you are used to seeing them……AND they are there to have a great time, to love you and share in a great evening of music.   

Your acting choices should be as clear to you; perhaps your physicality won’t be as large.  This is a small adjustment.   Just enjoy it…..think of it as a conversations with good friends….of course, “friends” who have paid a cover!!! 


Remembering Sue O’Neill Johnson

September 28, 2007

I just got the sad news that Sue O’Neill Johnson passed away Friday morning, after a struggle with endometrial cancer.

Although a librarian at the World Bank by career, she was an active member on a number of musical fronts.  She was long-involved with Hexagon, organized musical fundraisers for the local Special Libraries Association Chapter, and played as part of a jazz combo of World Bank employees.  And on the cutting edge of humor, she wrote one of the funniest songs I’ve ever heard, My Internet Sweetie Just Dumped Me, in the early ’90s.

I first worked with Sue in the early ’90s when I directed a revue she wrote called Driving Forces.  She music directed a show I did at the Warehouse, and was co-music director for Persons of Interest, the revue I appeared in at the Warehouse Theater last spring.

I’ll always treasure her spirit, her gung-ho attitude, and constant willingness to develop herself. 

As the lyrics to one of the songs we did together says, “now when I remember spring, and all the joy that love can bring, I will be remembering the shadow of your smile.” 

The Merrily Problem

September 27, 2007


Top: Mary Gordon Murray (in an ensemble that never made it past tech) and Victor Garber*

Bottom: Richard Bauer, Marin Mazzie, Victor Garber, David Garrison, and Becky Ann Baker*

Seeing Signature Theatre’s mounting of Merrily We Roll Along has me thinking about the show again.  It’s probably my favorite show.  I’ve seen about nine different productions of it over the years, including a preview of the original Broadway version when Jerome Robbins was still the choreographer, the Catholic University remounting the summer after it closed, and a version at Wildwood in the late eighties.  I think I saw the Arena staging eight times (featuring Victor Garber, Mary Gordan Murray, and a then-unknown Marin Mazzie).

This has long been seen as a “problem” show.  And the problem is usually identified as the fact that the show goes backward.  At first we see our protagonist Franklin Shepard at late middle age, a supposedly broken hollow man.  Then we go back in time to see the pivotal moments that let him to this eventual state.  Eventully we see the wonderful guy he once was at the start of his journey.

However, this staging really brought home the fact for me that the problem of the show is the central character Franklin Shepard.  The show in its original form was meant as a morality tale, as staged by a high school graduating class, about a sell-out who abandons his dreams and is ruined.  However, the team eventually seemed to reason that a full length evening centering on a schmuck was not a good idea.  So the graduation framework got dropped (last seen after a preview in the Arena version) and Franklin is less of a failure at the beginning/end.

However, watching the play at Signature, my question gets reinforced – “What’s so bad about Franklin’s life now?”  Certainly his marriage has come to an end, but that relationship has been presented as problematic throughout the whole play.  His latest movie is a success, so he remains more than solvent.  He seems to have a large coterie of hangers-on, some of whom might be friends.  There are people —  his agent, his lawyer, a reporter — who seem to have been in life for years. 

The main focus of the play is that he is alienated from two friends that he made in his early twenties.  However, both act so abysmally to him over the course of the piece that it’s really hard to blame him for feeling hurt and dropping them.  The final straw to the creative team seems to be that Franklin no longer composes, producing movies instead.  Well, people change careers.  And more importantly, at the end/beginning of the play, Franklin is commended for writing “what he knows.”  Well, at least if he is void of ideas, he’s not foisting empty content onto the public.

Perhaps the real problem of the play is that this is a story that was originally told by a creative team that was well into advanced middle age. So it isn’t told with genuine youthful idealism tempered by naiveté.  And that’s a problem.

*Photos from the Arena Stage production of Merrily We Roll Along, photographer Joan Marcus.  Special thanks to Haley Miller at Arena Stage for finding the archive materials and converting them into digital images.  I really appreciate it!

Wowie — Sally Martin at the Corcoran

September 26, 2007

 That shattering sound you may have heard from 17th Street last night, was Sally Martin breaking through to a new level in her work as she presented the release show for her new CD, Another Time, Another Place

It is really terrific to know that with work and determination we can all improve, even those lucky to be starting at a fairly high level.  When I first heard Sally Martin a decade ago, I thought she was a talented, technically proficient performer.  However, tonight’s audience at the Corcoran was privileged to see an artist working at full steam.  I’ve never seen her look more comfortable on stage or seem to have a greater passion to communicate with the audience.  Best of all, although she has enormous technique, she was comfortable enough to abandon it when necessary to support her communicative choices.  (She also looked amazing in a low-cut iridescent gown.) 

No doubt, much of the level of comfort is due to her music director, James Fitzpatrick.  His arrangements suit Martin’s strengths fabulously, and seem to encourage work in a wonderful lower register that we hadn’t heard much before.  The two have developed the best version of Sondheim’s So Many People that I have ever heard.  And Fitzpatrick’s song Another Time, Another Place was the highlight of the evening.  Deborah Milan Brudvig provided lovely, sensitive support on the cello.

The whole package — performance, material, musical support and gown — was certainly of a higher quality than a number of nationally-known cabaret perforers I’ve seen.

Here’s the set list:

  • I Know a Place (Hatch)
  • I Had a Dream About You (Yeston)
  • Bill (Kern/Wodehouse, Hammerstein) / My Man (Yvain/Pollack)
  • Le Prochain Amour (Brel/Jouannest)
  • J’Ai Deux Amours (Scotte / Koger / Varna)
  • Home, Boys, Home (Traditional)
  • At the Mid Hour Night (Britton)
  • The Patriot’s Game (Behan)
  • America (Simon)
  • Amor (Bolcom / Weinstein)
  • Youkali (Weill)
  • So Many People (Sondheim)
  • Carey (Mitchell)
  • Another Time, Another Place (Fitzpatrick)
  • Carousel (Brel)
  • The Chance to Sing (Thalken/Jones)

Sally Martin’s CD is available through CD Baby

Stephen Holden on Barbara Carroll

September 26, 2007

The great Barbara Carroll is still going strong at the Algonquin!

Stephen Holden’s review just came out in the NY Times — “the music of the pianist and singer Barbara Carroll sustains an exquisite balance between classical refinement and a steady, understated jazz pulse.”

(And to show that even the NY Times can get things wrong, the song The Best Thing That Ever Happened” from Bounce was identified as “Best Thing That Ever Has Happened”.  It makes me feel much better about the little glitches I’ve had so far on this blog.)

There was also a review of Joan Morris and William Bolcom.   (Once again, notice the caption where Morris is identified as “Jean Morris.”)